Tennessee bills target gay marriage, bathroom usage for LGBT individuals

Photo courtesy of Tony Webster / Flickr 

Two bills have been proposed in the Tennessee legislature that Tennesseans are calling out as targeting the LGBTQ community, particularly homosexual and transgender people.

The first, an anti-gay marriage bill titled the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act,” was introduced by Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) and Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon).

The bill refers to the Constitution of Tennessee, Article XI, section 18, which states that “the historical institution and legal contract solemnizing the relationship of one man and one woman shall be the only legally recognized marital contract in this state.”

The bill defends this notion by claiming that the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, a landmark case that ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples, was made out of bias, and that the decision “flies in the face of reality, the created order and the law of nature, just as if the Court were to claim authority to strike down the law of gravity or other natural laws.”

It continues, saying “the people of the State of Tennessee have recognized natural marriage as the only valid marital union recognized by the State of Tennessee.”

The bill then cites figures such as English jurist Sir William Blackstone, Martin Luther King Jr., John Locke and even the Declaration of Independence, to lay out the moral defense of what Sexton and Pody consider the “natural law.”

If passed, the bill would enforce the state’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman and would prohibit the government from recognizing same-sex unions in any regard. The bill also calls upon Tennessee’s Attorney General to defend the law if there were to be any resulting court battle.

There would undoubtedly be a lengthy court battle were this to be passed.

Sexton’s campaign website clearly states his views on the matter of gay marriage, saying that he is “more pro-life than your pastor, more for the Second Amendment than Davy Crockett and more for traditional marriage than Adam and Eve.”

Pody expresses a similar conviction; his website succinctly states that he believes “marriage should be between one man and one woman.”

The second bill, House Bill 1151, proposes expanding the offense of indecent exposure to include incidents occurring in a “restroom, locker room, dressing room, or shower, designated for single-sex” if the offender is of a different sex “than the sex designated for use,” according to the bill.

The bill seems to specifically target transgender people with one line in particular: “A medical, psychiatric, or psychological diagnosis of gender dysphoria, gender confusion, or similar conditions, in the absence of untreated mental conditions, such as schizophrenia, does not serve as a defense to the offense of indecent exposure.”

This bill was introduced by Representative John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge), who said in an interview with News Channel 5 that he did it for his granddaughters.

“This bill is about making sure that it is clear where certain behaviors are appropriate and which are not,” Ragan said in the interview. “… The expectation is if you are in a restroom that is designated for your sex, you have an expectation of certain conditions.”

When asked if this was written to target trans people, Ragan denied such an idea.

“It doesn’t target them,” he said. “What it does is prevent them from using that as an excuse.”

In an interview with News Channel 5, Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said the bill was “really about criminalizing transgender people in certain kinds of public places.”

“(It is) a way of putting in a little bit of language that’s very damaging to the transgender community,” he said.

Ragan also came under fire for sponsoring Bill SB0848, which pushed for adoption agencies to be allowed to refuse to work with gay couples if it conflicted with the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of the company.

All three bills were introduced on Feb. 6. The marriage bill has been referred to the Children and Families Subcommittee, the indecent exposure bill has been assigned to the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and the adoption bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The future of these bills remains at the mercy of these committees.

To contact News Editor Angele Latham, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

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